Archive for 2021

Iowa Author Linda Skeers Inspires with DINOSAUR LADY

Stay curious and keep asking questions — you never know what you might discover! If you have a passion for something — pursue it.

–Linda Skeers, Iowa Author
Check out Amazon for reviews & buying info: Dinosaur Lady.

Imagine exploring sand and shore, finding amazing fossils, and fearlessly standing your ground. Those are all elements of Linda Skeers new picture book: Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist. (Illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens.) It was recently named an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2021.

Who is Mary Anning?
While few people may have heard of Mary Anning, her contributions to the field of paleontology were ground-breaking. She was the first to find Plesiosaurus and pterosaur bones, to study fossilized poop, to learn that early cephalopods squirted ink, and to discover the evolutionary link between sharks and rays. All the while, many of the men in her field discounted her work because she was a woman. And she did all of this within her short 48 years of life.

Skeers manages to pack all of this information and much more into 40 pages, packed with action verbs, bouncy description, engaging narrative, and insightful backmatter. It’s a perfect nonfiction picture book for readers of all ages.

You’re never too old (or too furry) to read a great picture book!

For Skeers, the hours of research and writing were a labor of love. “Mary Anning was an incredible woman who spent her life looking for answers about the world around her,” said Skeers. “No matter what obstacles she faced, she persevered in her quest for knowledge. When she realized most scientific books about fossils were written in French, she simply taught herself to read French!”


We sat down with Skeers to ask three questions about the book.

Did you find any elements of STEM in Anning’s work?     
Mary Anning had an insatiable curiosity to find the answers to questions she had about the fossils she uncovered. She made intricate and detailed scientific drawings and took copious notes — which she studied and discussed with others who were also fascinated by fossils. She almost single-handedly created the scientific field of paleontology through sheer perseverance!

What do you hope readers take away from this book?     
Stay curious and keep asking questions — you never know what you might discover! If you have a passion for something — pursue it.

“When she realized most scientific books about fossils were written in French, she simply taught herself to read French!”

–Linda Skeers

How could teachers incorporate this book into their curriculum?     
There’s an Educator’s Guide to go along with the book with ideas and activities for teachers, parents and students. Here’s a link to the free PDF.

This might be our favorite page because we wish we could join Mary as she explores.


To find out more about Skeers’ books, visit her website:


Find Skeers online at:
–Facebook: search Linda Skeers
–Twitter:  @skeerswriter
–Amazon: Dinosaur Lady
–Want to write for kids? Check out her summer workshop.

Weekend Activity: Identify Trees!

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
“Birches” by Robert Frost

Spring is the perfect time of year to appreciate the trees! Dr. Jeff Weld, Executive Director of Iowa STEM, authored an article on the ABC’s of parent-kid interaction called “Time to Talk STEM with Your Kids.” We’re taking a cue from his letter-I: “Identify the trees in your yard and neighborhood.”

We went looking for tree identification resources and found an awesome online resource by ISU Outreach and Extension. Check out this link: NOTE: There’s a maple leaf that marks START–click there.

When you wear out from your walk, snuggle up with these great tree reads!

My NEW favorite! This nonfiction book from the adult best seller list will change the way you look at forests and trees. Simard studies how trees interact and communicate via microbiology. Not only do trees have a complicated, independent life cycle, but they are also social and interconnected. For example, when a pest attacks one tree, it sends out a message to other trees. Those trees then begin to produce their own defenses, protecting themselves and looking out for one another. Forests have long seemed magical, and now Simard has the science to support that.

A TREE NAMED STEVE by Alan Zweibel and David Catrow

This is a family favorite! You may have a tree like Steve in your yard. If not, you’re going to want to plant one. After the family spares him from the builders, Steve the tree quickly works his way into their lives. He holds their underwear when the dryer breaks down, he’s there for first crushes and heartbreaks, and he soaks up the storm water. The three kids who live there fall in love with this tree, and I’m pretty sure you will, too.

STRETCH TO THE SUN by Carrie Pearson and Susan Swan

Nonfiction you can’t put down! Midwest author Carrie Pearson shares her love of nature through books. This narrative nonfiction picture book is about the tallest tree on earth! Meet the giant coastal redwood that has survived for over 1200 years. Scientists can tell its past and study it in the present. For all of the natural disasters it has faced and survived, people may be its most challenging. But see how tree lovers, including a past president, have come to its rescue. It’s a story of conservation and hope.

THE SECRET TREE by Natalie Standtford

Why love middle grade? It always ends happy! This clever book is about an important neighborhood tree that holds everyone’s secrets. Tucked into a suburban forest, a hallow hole holds notes on which neighbors have written their secrets. Minty and Raymond team up to match the secret to the person and help in anyway they can. It asks the age-old ethical question that we teach kids to sort out in life: Which secrets should be kept versus which secrets should be told?

If you have other great tree books, please let us know. We love when students, parents, librarians, and teachers take over the blog!

To see the rest of Dr. Jeff Weld’s alphabet ideas, please visit the Iowa STEM website:

In addition, there’s a Teachable Moments page that will keep your kids busy all spring! Click:

Great Books for Earth Day (or any day!)

The past few years have brought a non-fiction renaissance to readers everywhere, and environmental topics are hot! To celebrate EARTH DAY, we decided to share a few of our favorite books in this category. Four of these books are marketed toward a preK-5 audience, but we guarantee you’ll learn something from each of them.

HERE WE ARE by Oliver Jeffers

We’re kicking the list off with this bestseller because it explains environmental science in kid-friendly terms. Jeffers is a fine artist turned kid-lit guru, so his images draw in readers of all ages. All of the concepts are tied together with a common theme: connect to your environment and inspire compassion for nature.

THE WATER PROTECTORS by Carle Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

Inspired by an indigenous movement that has sparked change throughout the country, this award-winning book communicates an important message. It combines the lyrical language of Native American mythology with science and modern messaging, and it serves as a call of action for all of us.

ONE PLASTIC BAG by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon

You’ll never look at plastic shopping bags in the same way after reading this book! It’s based on a true story about one African woman, Isatou Ceesay, who noticed how badly plastic bags were polluting her community. She sets out to clean up and recycle them, sparking change in people everywhere. Whenever you can, decline a bag or go in with a reusable one.

THE TREE LADY by H Joseph Hopkins and Jill McElmerry

Learn how one teacher, Kate Sessions, helped turn San Diego from a dry desert to a green, leafy oasis known for nature. It’s full of illustrations that will make you want to plant something green. Even if you just add one helpful pollinator plant to your window sill garden, it is a start.

THE PHOTO ARK by Joel Sartore

This is a National Geographic book of love put together by one man who set out to photograph every animal BEFORE IT GOES EXTINCT! Kids and adults alike will spend hours thumbing through the exquisite pictures. Many have short captions that make them even more endearing. If you set this book on a coffee table, everyone who comes into your house will pick it up.

Building SPATIAL Skills Through Literacy + Maps

Maps promise adventure! They not only provide a way to understand geography, but also history, politics, and self-awareness. In a 2013 study, National Geographic concluded: “A student who has acquired robust spatial thinking skills is at an advantage in our increasingly global and technical society.” White it’s easy to ask Siri for directions, learning how to map read builds important spatial skills. The same skills that help build confidence in geometry, engineering, construction, design, art, and more.

The following picture books offer a way to introduce map skills via story, which is the very best way to learn everything.


For core map concepts, this is a great place to start! When Lisa’s class is tasked to make a map, she starts with her room. Then Lisa begins mapping from her dog Penny’s perspective. Readers learn some basics about map reading, like how to incorporate scale and how to use a key to the symbols. Best of all, the inviting illustrations provide a simple, colorful model for students to create their own maps.

IDEA: Take a moment to map your corner of the world. Include a scale measurement and a key to the symbols. You may find it easier to include details if you start with a more immediate space.

A MAP INTO WORLD by Kao Kalia Yang & Seo Kim

This story chronicles a year of changes in the life of a Hmong girl named Paj Ntaub and her family. It hints at their journey to America and focuses on a special relationship they develop with an older neighbor. Based on a true story, it’s a heartfelt fictional tale about change, place, and loss. But it also contains interesting visual elements that offer the reader to consider their own sense of place. There’s a story cloth that tells an immigration story, and, at the close of the book, there’s a sidewalk drawing that timelines the year. (Youtube read-aloud:

IDEA: Have students create a story cloth, map or timeline noting their own geographical journey or their family’s history and immigration.


This whimsical book engages directional skills when a boy searches the city for his special dragon. Along with a wonderful map in the end pages, readers can also practice counting to 20 through spot-color illustrations. Use it for a quick introduction to a mapping concept or offer a longer study of the pictures. Author/illustrator Steve Light provides insights into illustration details as he reads via this link:, so it’s almost like having him visit your storytime.

IDEA: Make or find a map of your city/town and invite students to mark their own path or a path they’d like to follow. Try to find your neighborhood.

OCEAN SPEAKS by Jess Keating and Katie Hickley

Meet Maria Tharp! This trailblazing female scientist mapped the ocean floor. Find out how her childhood passion became a successful career at a time when women were not encouraged to study science. Plus, you’ll see a map of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. What I love about this Youtube read aloud by Dr. Maureen Raymo is that she’s an oceanographer; Jess Keating, the author, is a zoologist; and they’re all celebrating Maria Tharp, who was a geologist:

IDEA: Take a moment to map a place you love in nature. It might be drawing your own backyard garden, local park, or maybe you’ll take a field trip to special place in nature.

FOLLOW THAT MAP by Scot Ritchie

We’ll end with another great, general picture book that talks about mapping skills, including a compass rose, landmarks, scale bar, routes, keys, and legends. In the story, friends set out on an adventure close to home, and then the adventure grows to include a map of the world and outer space. Full of colorful illustrations, there’s even a set of directions at the close to help readers draw a simple map, making it a great book to use in a station or to read as a class.

IDEA: Send your kiddos on a treasure hunt with a map you make just for this occasion. Or have students create treasure maps for each other. Need some treasure? Try making your own map necklaces with cardboard, maps, glue, and yarn:

More Ideas…

If you have a favorite mapping book, please do send it our way ( We’d love to share your ideas with readers. And if you need more on mapping, try the organization that has sponsored a number of the world’s explorers and map makers: National Geographic’s classroom resource site:

If you’re seeking more STEM resources, please visit Iowa STEM’s Teachable Moment page:

Scroll to Top